Why don't you hear any music?
For ALFREDO OVALLES, the physical aspect of music is the driving elixir. Initially socialized musically through rock music, the pianist with Venezuelan roots, who has been living in Vienna for ten years, easily switches between standard classical repertoire, experimental solo projects and highly complex contemporary works of new music. As a member of the Black Page Orchestra, Alfredo Ovalles is represented several times at IMPULS FESTIVAL & ACADEMY in Graz (August 16-28, 2021) and is among other things. in search of virtuosity. In an interview with Ruth Ranacher, the official Bösendorfer artist explains why the constant practice of different styles is priceless for ALFREDO OVALLES and why he does not believe in a hard break with tradition.
You describe that, musically, you are at home in a world in which borders are dissolving. That sounds quite contemporary in its approach. Frank Zappa plays a big role on your way to contemporary music. What was the decisive moment here?
Alfredo Ovalles: In addition to Zappa, who was a huge influence, are also King Crimson and generally the progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Freddie Mercury was the first person I saw playing the piano and at the time I said to myself: “I want to do THAT!” I am a freak and love reading interviews from artists who are important to me. Zappa's biography describes the moment when Zappa found Edgar Varèse's phone number and called him in New York. A new world opened up for me. I followed a similar path King Crimson. Their guitarist Robert Fripp asked himself how Béla Bartók and Sergei Prokofjew would sound on the electric guitar and thus described the aesthetics of the band. I did some research and that's how I came to Bach.
Let's talk about your first album “Transoceanic” (Hello Stage, 2017). You get the impression that you want to mix styles and eras. Figuratively speaking, pulling up a large collage, can you put it that way?
Alfredo Ovalles: Yes. I love concept albums! The album contains the milestones that are important to me. It includes Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, the Venezuelan composer Federico Ruiz with “Tropical Triptych” and a contemporary piece by Nikolet Burzynska. The latter is dedicated to me and represents the idea of what I could do in the future. Oliver Messiaen can be found in it because it is the greatest work I played when I was a student.
Were you free to choose the composition?
Alfredo Ovalles: Yes. This year I am giving my second album “Dance! Volume 1 - from Bach to Bernstein ”. Then I will combine in an arrangement for piano everything that can be understood as dance music. For me, this includes the “Partita No. 1 ”by Johann Sebastian Bach and the symphonic dances from Bernstein's“ West Side Story ”. Dance music is very important to me. For labels, however, this is a concept that is difficult to sell. So I run my own label Sound building house and publish there.
In a previous interview, you describe it as a great challenge to focus on a genre in order to be marketable. Would you say that today or is the label the way out?
Alfredo Ovalles: The label is a bit of a way out. Franz Zappa and John Zorn also had their own labels. If I have a project that doesn't fit in with someone else's concept, I go with it Sound building house my outlet. With my jazz trio Zaperoco Conspiracy We orientate ourselves on Venezuelan folk music, but play it like contemporary jazz. This project was also funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, maybe we will publish Bach and contemporary works as well as my label.
What is the attraction for you to dance at so many different weddings?
Alfredo Ovalles: I always play so different pieces that I never get to the point where you sigh and say: “… another Beethoven concert!” Every day brings something new. In addition to concerts, I prepare projects, like soon for the Wiener Festwochen Gustav Mahler's “Das Lied von der Erde” with the Klangforum Wien. With one of my solo projects I'm currently recording for the Kulturforum in Istanbul for the festival Days for New Music İzmir II - a festival in Izmir with new music for piano. I not only play a direction like the Darmstadt School, but also the American minimalists. That’s priceless! I also think it makes me better as a musician. When I play a piece by Liszt, I may be able to take a different perspective because I've internalized everything that came before and after him.
In what way?
Alfredo Ovalles: Let's take Beethoven as an example. When I play Beethoven today, I have a modern piano that he didn't have. Maybe I can add a new timbre to that Beethoven did not know? Maybe I'll find an impressionistic influence; that sounds pretentious now, but one affects the other.
"[...] classical musicians don't understand what groove is."
So, for example, playing techniques. New music also works with extended playing techniques ...
Alfredo Ovalles: Yes, or a rhythmic requirement. I always say that classical musicians don't understand what groove is. For me, however, groove is very important, regardless of the style. When the groove is there, you no longer hear with your head, but with your body. Getting that physical response is very important to me. Bach also has pieces that groove. I think that's something that you get when you deal with other genres of music.
How are you Black Page Orchestra bumped?
Alfredo Ovalles: I am a founding member. When the time came for a pianist there, I came across the initial project by Alessandro Baticci and Matthias Kranebitter. It's an incredible ensemble, a group of the best musicians. They can do everything! Improvising, reading crazy things just fine - and it's very cool to have such partners and to play together.
The Black Page Orchestra named itself after a piece by Frank Zappa, the score of which is so dense that the sheet is black for sheer musical notes. How important is the concept behind the work for you in general?
Alfredo Ovalles: In general, I am not a fan of empty ideas. Sometimes there is more substance in the accompanying text than in the music. For me the narrative is important. I am fascinated by the idea of the artist as a total work of art, the idea of understanding life as an artist in its entirety.
Virtuosity is also expressed in the performance
The pieces that do that Black Page Orchestra plays are very dynamic and often very loud. Doesn't that quickly lead to excessive demands? So to exhaust the intensity until it is no longer possible?
Alfredo Ovalles: Pieces by Hikari Kiyama, one of the composers we have often played, push us to the limit of virtuosity. I think that's the tenor of it Black Page Orchestra. Virtuosity is also expressed in performance when the body comes along. By that I mean the physical aspects of virtuosity in using your body. Both Soundtracks we played a double concert by Kiyama five years ago. Alone the line-up with piano and drums, accompanied by piccolo and violin, is extraordinary and then “Lehmanesque” is very loud, almost all the time very fast and very long. This is a work-out! I find that interesting, because you reach your limit not only musically, but also physically.
At pulse In Graz you are on the one hand as a soloist and as a member of the Black Page Orchestra and represented as a lecturer. In your solo concert you will perform works by Matthias Kranebitter, Bernhard Lang and Margareta Ferek-Petric play. Kranebitter dismantles his material, deconstructs and compresses it to the extreme. Lang, who is also known for his remixes of Wagner operas and Mozart, exploits repetition as a compositional principle. The piece "I Repeat Myself When Under Stress" by Ferek-Petric seems already from the title to fit perfectly with the energy. Are repetition and time pressure also the common thread through the evening?
Alfredo Ovalles: The underlying idea of the concert is tradition on several levels; dynamic there is a development, it is not just full throttle. In terms of content, this is also related to my workshop on virtuosity in the 21st century, but more on that later.
Kranebitter's “Nihilistic Studies 4-6”, in which he experiments with Beethoven's “Für Elise”, establish a relationship with tradition. He really does everything with it! Bernhard Lang's “Intermezzo No.2” deals with the romantic idea of the intermezzi. These are pieces that formally play with repetition, of course, but Lang exhausts this by repeating very small excerpts to extremes. In Margareta Ferek-Petric's piece there are virtuoso moments for traditional piano playing in the middle part. Before and after, however, the whole piano is used as an instrument, not just the keys.
What is striking about the piece is a video that is also aesthetically very well made, with the approach to the piano, changing to color as soon as you sit down at the piano. Before doing this, turn off the metronome. Can you interpret that as if time is being overridden? When you leave the piano stool, you turn it on again.
Alfredo Ovalles: That can also be an interpretation.
In works by Matthias Kranebitter, the piano often sounds like the soundtrack of a high-speed computer game. What is it about this sound aesthetic that fascinates you?
Alfredo Ovalles: The former is difficult to answer, it is a physical reaction. I love to play this music. It's fun, it's funny, it's got such a full soul. Anyone who is Kranebitter is in their music and it is completely unadulterated. I remember the feeling I had when I first heard "Nihilistic Studies", my physical reaction ...
How was that expressed?
Alfredo Ovalles: Hard to say ... full of energy!
And how good do you have to be to play that?
Alfredo Ovalles: Very good, that is highly complex music! Classically trained musicians who have no relation to the contemporary are often of the opinion that there are no phrases, no dynamics in New Music. I say: Yes, you just have to find it! Furthermore, everything has to be played exactly as it is written down. This does not exist in this form in contemporary music, because there is no fixed tradition. Today it is our job as musicians to write this tradition.
"When you play new music, you know that paper can't transport everything."
Does that mean that as an interpreter you also have to work out for yourself what is in a new piece?
Alfredo Ovalles: The greatest compliment is when a composer tells me that I've added something new through my playing, that I've discovered something that he or she hasn't heard before. A piece is not finished when the composer writes the last two lines. It also belongs to the interpreters. Because the piece is written, every interpreter can find new things. That's why I'm always a little disappointed about the uniformity in classical music. When you play new music, you know that paper cannot transport everything. You have to find out for yourself. Because there are differences between the composer's listening and my listening. Fortunately, there are now musicians who also have this claim.
I assume that a lot of these questions will flow into your workshop for composers at the IMPULS Academy. How do you prepare for what can participants expect?
Alfredo Ovalles: My topic is "21st Century Piano Virtuosity" - virtuosity on the piano in the 21st century. I am currently waiting for the works that are currently being submitted, then I will make a selection. First and foremost, I am curious about the new pieces and would like to talk to the composers about them. These are our case studies. The workshop always includes a round table in which we will talk about virtuosity. I have a certain idea of it and I know what is meant by virtuosity in the tradition of Sergei Rachmaninoff up to the middle of the 20th century. But what does virtuosity mean today? The question is: how can we transform this kind of virtuosity into the 21st century? In my workshop I would like to talk about ideas, we don't need complete pieces, the participants can also send sketches.
Does the suggestion for the topic come from you?
Alfredo Ovalles: Yes. Right now I'm obsessed with the connection between tradition and virtuosity. I think you need the connection with the tradition in the background to go further. In my opinion, a radical break is not possible.
"[...] you need these laboratory situations where you can experiment without limits."
In your experience, what function do festivals for new music in general fulfill? Which temporary symposia, academies and residencies in particular?
Alfredo Ovalles: On the one hand, of course, this is the continuation, a new repertoire that meets an audience. On the other hand, it offers everyone who is interested in new music and new ways of art the opportunity to meet and discuss. It's nice after the opening concert by Vienna Modern Have a beer with colleagues and talk about the program. This is important for the exchange and to further develop this art form. At the same time, festivals of new music also remain isolated, the same people always meet. The question arises as to how one can get out of these circles and into the seasonal operation of the concert halls. But that's another topic. I think you need these laboratory situations where you can experiment without limits.
You also have some international dates in your tour calendar for the summer. How do you look towards this, also in view of the long-running COVID-19 pandemic?
Alfredo Ovalles: A few concerts are confirmed, a few not, everything can change up to the last minute. I keep my fingers crossed that the situation will be stable again from autumn. Among other things, because in September I will give a world premiere of Jorge Sánchez-Chiong, which will be held as an opening concert as part of the 2020 Soundtracksblack should have taken place, want to play - a double concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra.
In an interview you say that when you are not performing live you feel physically ill. How did you spend the first year of the corona pandemic?
Alfredo Ovalles: It was difficult. With the Black Page Orchestra we were able to play a few concerts in autumn with a limited number of audiences, I myself also went solo, for example at Warsaw autumn. That was a good stimulus. I couldn't play concerts, but I was very busy. I'm not a sound engineer, but I've built my own studio and learned a lot thanks to great friends who are great sound engineers. I didn't feel sick, but the moment after a concert for a live stream, when nobody is in the hall except the technician, is a bit difficult.
Have you heard a good livestream yourself that stuck in your memory?
Alfredo Ovalles: Honestly not. There was the world premiere at Vienna Modern by Matthias Kranebitter, she was great. Recently that London Symphony Orchestra, but they do it like their daily bread. I don't really feel like watching live streams, it's better to put on a good record.
Thank you for the interview!
Alfredo Ovalles (music austria database)
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